Commentary Magazine


Menendez Expected to Take Over as Foreign Relations Chair

Finally, some good news to come out of John Kerry’s likely secretary of state appointment:

Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) anticipated move to the State Department would leave the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the hands of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has consistently bucked the White House on Cuba and Iran.

Menendez is next in line to take over the panel if Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) opts to keep her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as is widely expected. That would give Menendez a key role in approving diplomatic nominees and international treaties — crucial leverage to demand a tougher stance against America’s foes.

“You can’t work around the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he’s willing to dig in his heels on important issues,” said Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush who’s enthused by Menendez’s possible promotion. “At the same time, he’s going to be expected to be a team player — but that has its limits.

“I think he’ll give folks in the administration something to think about before they cross him, frankly.”

When it comes to Iran sanctions, it would be difficult to find a stronger Democratic senator than Menendez. He’s been active on the issue for years, at least since his time on the House international relations committee (now foreign affairs). On the Senate finance committee, he’s joined up with Senator Mark Kirk on several critically important Iran sanctions amendments.

But the White House can’t be thrilled with Menendez’s likely new role. He’s had no reservations about fighting the Obama administration over sanctions, nor clashing with them over Armenia and Cuba. The last thing Obama wants is a critic from his own party attacking his Iran policy from such a prominent perch in the Senate.